Meal planning is my number one suggestion when family, friends, or clients ask me how to save time or money when transitioning to more of a real food diet. About half the time, when I suggest this, I immediately see glazed over eyes, or sudden silence in a text message exchange. And I know the person is thinking I’m adding a pile of work to their (already too busy) plate.
But here’s thing, I’m totally not. If you find the right meal plan rhythm for you, taking into account your personality, your family’s specific needs, and your schedule, it will save you much more time than the time it takes to get the meal plan together.
Benefits of Meal Planning
I’ve been a meal planner for years. I don’t remember not meal planning in some form since I started living on my own. How I do it and the extent to which I plan changes over time, but always do some form of planning because it saves both time and money. Here’s how:
Meal Planning Time Savers
- It saves time at every meal. If I know what we’re eating for a meal ahead of time, I don’t have to spend time figuring things out. When we get home on a Tuesday from daycare pick-up and running errands, and I’ve got a thirty minute window to get food on the table, it’s really nice to just glance at my menu, (hopefully) take my pre-prepped ingredients out of the fridge, and get to cooking.
- It saves time grocery shopping. When I have a meal plan in place, making a grocery list is incredibly simple. I just go through my menu, adding the ingredients that we need to the list. At the store, I have a basic list to follow and can usually get in and out in about twenty minutes. No wandering around trying to figure out what to put in my cart and hoping it’s enough. Or I can enter my list into a delivery service in less than five minutes – I use Instacart and I find that it saves me both time (obviously) and money (nice surprise!).
- It allows me to prep, which saves me more time at every meal. Batch prepping food on the weekend or a weeknight is a huge time saver during the week. It’s much easier to do this if you know what you’re going to be eating in the week ahead. If I don’t have time to do a big cook-up, I can at least look at my menu the night before and make sure I’ve got what I need for all our meals the next day. I often find there’s one thing I can prep or cook while we’re eating dinner or doing dishes that will save me time the next day.
Meal Planning Money Savers
- It helps me buy only the food we need to eat, and eat the food we buy. When I have a meal plan in place, I know what we’re going to eat and how much food I need to make the meals happen. I’m not just throwing food in my cart, thinking we’ll get to it at some point, and then composting it two weeks later. I’m much more likely to use the food we eat if each piece has an intended purpose. Grocery delivery takes it a step further and saves me money because I don’t add a bunch of last minute items into my cart that either look good or we ‘need’. The delivery fee is definitely worth it, just to avoid the extras that I can’t stop myself from buying.
- It keeps me from ordering take out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge take out fan. Friday nights are dedicated to take out. And I’m generally okay if we eat it once more during the week. But any more than that, I start to feel gross, plus we start to spend a ton of money on quick meals. With a meal plan, I can schedule in a take out meal or two (don’t I sound like the most fun person ever?), but we don’t end up going overboard with them because we’ve got home cooked meals planned for the majority of our meals.
Three Ways to Meal Plan
When people think of meal planning, a lot of times they imagine spending hours combing through cookbooks or the internet to find recipes, and writing every detail of every meal on a schedule. And of course this seems overwhelming. Meal planning can be whatever you want it to be, whatever you have time for, whatever WORKS FOR YOU.
Sometimes I plan every meal, sometimes I just plan dinners and have a general sense of what I need to have on hand to make sure we have food for breakfasts and lunches. Sometimes I plan for three or four days at a time, sometimes for a week.
There is no right way to meal plan. There is just the way that works for you at any given time. Life changes, and your meal planning probably will too.Meal planning isn't overwhelming once you find the way that works best for you!Click To Tweet
The one thing I do encourage everyone to do though, is determine what kind of meal planner you are. What I’ve learned from years of meal planning myself, and helping others with meal planning, is that there are three main profiles for meal planners. Within each profile, there is room to make it your own and change up how you do things, because LIFE, but it’s highly likely that one of these profiles is going to fit your personality best. Once you figure that out, meal planning becomes much more simple and feels totally doable.
The Steadfast Planner
The Steadfast Planner (Hi, that’s me!) is your traditional meal planner. Week in and week out (or whatever she prefers), she creates a meal plan. She uses a mix of new recipes that look good, family favorites, and super basic meals for the extra busy nights.
She’s found a cadence that works for her and can whip out a meal plan in 15 minutes. She does it on scratch paper, in a grid she’s created, or on a white board. She sits down and enjoys coffee while doing it, or she does it while wrangling kids or on the phone. The key to the steadfast planner is she’s flexible. She goes with the flow each week, but makes sure to get some sort of plan in place, no matter how simple.
Some tips that make weekly planning work for
me the Steadfast Planner:
- Keep a list of your favorites. When you’ve got a mental block (or very little time), referring to this list is really helpful.
- Don’t go overboard on new recipes. Yes, they are fun. But they also take more time. I limit to once a week.
- Have a place to start when looking for recipes. If the entire world is your oyster, it’s overwhelming. I have a handful of cookbooks that I love (Well Fed, Well Fed 2, Well Fed Weeknights), plus a few blogs I follow and anything new and fun I see on Instagram. And that’s all I use.
- Don’t be a hero. What I mean is, don’t plan a four course meal every night of the week. Think about commitments, schedules, homework loads, etc. Be reasonable. “Rotisserie chicken + bag of salad” is a total valid entry for a night when you’re running around like crazy… or ANY night, really.
The Routine Queen
The Routine Queen finds meal planning overwhelming. Looking at a blank page and trying to fill in all those squares – it’s just too much.
She finds that meal planning is totally doable though if she incorporates repetition. This gives her somewhere to start each time she sits down to make a meal plan, so she’s not starting from scratch. But she doesn’t take repetition to the point of being boring!
Some ways I suggest trying repetition if you think it might help you:
- Assigning a type of meal to each night of the week. Monday is Chicken, Tuesday is Tacos, Wednesday is Soup, etc. This way, you have somewhere to start when filling in your meal plan, but you’re not tied to the same chicken recipe every Monday night.
- Determine the number of nights your family eats in during a month (I’d start with 20 – 22 if you need a place to start). Come up with that number of meals that you know your family loves. Maybe save two nights, or whatever feels reasonable to you, for new recipe nights. Each month, switch around the order of your repeated meals. I don’t find eating a meal every four weeks to be too repetitive at all. You can still shop weekly, and add in breakfasts and lunches if you choose, but your dinners are pretty easy to get down on paper, and you only have to do it once a month. That’s twelve times a year. You can TOTALLY do that.
The Commitmentphobe doesn’t love meal planning because it dictates what she must eat for dinner every night. And what if she doesn’t want chicken on Tuesday, but that’s what the menu says?
Rather than be bitter at her meal plan week in and week out, she’s decided to look at things a little differently. After a bit of time keeping track of things, she knows how much her family eats on a weekly basis (something like 3 lbs of meat, 40 servings of vegetables, a bag of rice, a dozen eggs, etc.). Instead of planning meals, she plans to have enough groceries on hand for her family for the week, but decides in the moment what each meal will be.
Her menu looks more like a list, showing the proteins, veggies, grains, fruit, etc. that she has on hand for the week. She also makes note of what she’s prepped (one pound of ground beef and a pot of rice have been cooked, there are some chicken thighs defrosting, and broccoli, bell peppers, zucchini, and potatoes are all chopped).
When it comes time for dinner on Tuesday and she’s feeling something spicy, she can check her list, grab her ground beef, zucchini, bell peppers, and rice and make a skillet dinner with her favorite seasonings. She crosses them off her list and repeats the process on Wednesday.
While this profile takes a bit more time in the moment as you’ve got to think about what to make for each meal, you still save money and time by having enough food on hand for the week (or whatever period for which you are shopping).
So, how do you feel about meal planning? What profile fits best with you? Willing to give something new a try?
I’m excited to announce that my Services page is back up! I am once again offering one hour client sessions (or packages) for those who want a little extra help with transitioning to real food or more natural living. These sessions are intended for anyone who would like to make changes, but feel that they don’t have the time or resources to do the research themselves. We’ll talk about where you are, where you want to be, and create your action plan. After the call you’ll receive your detailed plan and additional resources.
Note: These are not nutritional therapy services. They are services for how to implement more real food and/or natural living practices into your life. You can see the full list of services HERE.